Matt Nagy must feel like he has coached six seasons the last two years.
It has been nothing but turbulence since his emphatic arrival in 2018, when the Bears won the NFC North at 12-4, but he’s still standing. Nagy has endured prolonged losing streaks and quarterback misadventures, been grilled about play-calling and job security and seen a team he thought was a Super Bowl contender plummet back to mediocrity.
Yet here he is eyeing the playoffs with three games left. And however much of a long shot the Bears are to get there, the fact that Nagy even has them in this position counts for something.
“You start out hot, you go 5-1, then you lose six in a row. We’re now in a position where we need to do whatever we can to give ourselves an opportunity to get into the playoffs,” he said Monday. “That’s what we’re focused on right now.
“All the coaches, all the players who have been here during those times have understood the hard work we’ve put into this. And so here’s where we’re at: We’ve got a big game this week versus Minnesota, and we control it.”
The Bears can’t fully dictate their destination, but winning out against the Vikings (6-7), Jaguars (1-12) and Packers (10-3) would mean they need only one slip by the Cardinals (7-6) to make the postseason. It won’t be easy — starting with a Vikings team that beat them last month and is a 3œ-point favorite at home — but it’s possible.
It also hinges considerably on whether the Packers have something at stake in the final week. If they need the win to secure the No. 1 seed in the NFC and a first-round bye, that’s scary for the Bears. It’d be a lucky break if the Packers have already clinched so they can rest their starters in the regular-season finale.
The New York Times’ simulator gave the Bears a 19% chance of reaching the playoffs after their 36-7 win over the Texans. That would spike to 40% if they beat the Vikings, 53% if they follow it with a win over the Jaguars and 92% with a clean sweep.
Whether those probabilities truly mean anything is debatable. The Bears’ 5-1 start gave them an 83% chance of making the playoffs based on the last 30 seasons of data, but that plunged to 12% at 6-7. The point is that the outcome is largely in their hands.
And after his team languished through six straight losses and stumbled to 14-15 over the last two seasons, Nagy is exuberant about this opportunity.
“We’ve been calloused in different ways,” he said. “And [the Texans game] was very important in the fact that regardless of who we’re playing, when we’re playing, or why we’re playing, our guys came out and they played with a ton of energy and passion.”
There are a hundred things for which to criticize Nagy, including many of his in-game decisions, and his firing at the end of the season would be justified. The team is still 25th in scoring (21.7 points per game) and 27th in yardage (5.0 per play), and that’s a continuation of long-term trends. But Nagy has led the Bears irreproachably behind the scenes.
It’s more common than not to see a team completely fold after so many losses pile up and the playoffs feel like a pipe dream, but that hasn’t happened under Nagy. If you credit him for nothing else, credit him for that.
“He’s stayed consistent in what he was saying, and he’s led our team,” secondary coach DeShea Townsend said. “We know that this is a production-based business, and this is what we signed up for. He has done a great job of making sure that we respond, pressing the right buttons and telling the truth. And that’s the biggest thing that you can ask for from your leader.”